George Duncan

Marketing copywriter/consultant, author

Archive for the category “TV ads”

Pinch me? Really?

From Watch Your Ads – A media memo by George Duncan

Pinch me? Really?

When was the last time someone asked you to pinch them? Last week? Probably not. In fact, probably not in this century. People who drive the VW Passat seem to be so taken with the car’s “Turbo Power,” whatever that is, they ask someone to pinch them to be sure it’s real. One woman declines to pinch her companion, “not while you’re driving.” Is power really a unique discovery in today’s vehicles? Hardly. Throwing a dated concept like pinch me into the ad for a powerful new car draws the attention away from the car to the interaction between the two people, I believe.

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Hey, why not hamsters!

Taking the distraction element a step – or maybe several steps – further, KIA has a quartette of hamsters  driving a rich lime green KIA. See a lot of those lately? The rodents are all handsomely dressed with jackets, vests, eyeglasses and more – all the more to distract from whatever the message is regarding  the car. It was lost on me. Another example of creatives gone wild.

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Take a little time for the child with you…

That’s the gist of a delightful tune currently running in an ad for Delta Airlines. Graphics show a business man overseas going through the usual grind. I love the way he almost gets run over facing the wrong way in a London street. Happens a lot. Anyway, after the sturm and drang of the day – or two – that he spends working, he returns to the welcoming, restful arms of his Delta flight home. Nice ad, but what’s unique about Delta hospitality? Especially in Business Class? A flight attendant politely takes his coat but not much more than that.

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Rube Goldberg Healthcare?

AARP has an ad out for their supplement medical plans. It features a small ball rolling on a track that recalls the days of Rube Goldberg and his imaginative creations. The ball goes through twists and turns tipping over one gizmo after another while a voiceover describes the benefits of AARP supplement plans, pointedly including phrases like “roll with you,” and “Keep you on track” (get it?). Here again the visual is captivating but I found it difficult to follow the ball as it goes through its contortions and absorb the benefit message at the same time. Also, AARP’s market is seniors who might have more difficulty with this mish mash than the younger set.

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Q. Why did the chicken cross the road?

A. To help make a point about GEICO insurance. (I wonder how many folks today recall that GEICO once stood for Government Employees Insurance Company?) But back to our chicken who crosses the road and takes off with all the romance that once was attached (erroneously) to those “knights of the open road” who, especially during the Great Depression, traveled the boxcar routes and hitchhiked from one hobo encampment to another. This is a free range chicken, see, and he’s ranging across the country, folkie type song strumming along in the background because “that’s what free range chickens do.” That’s followed by GEICO’s current tag line, about calling GEICO to save 15% on insurance. The visuals are clever, but this whole idea for me is still a stretch.

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First the show, then the snake oil

Many of today’s ads seem to be revisiting the old turn of the century practice of snake oil salesmen who traveled around the country with a magic show or a hoochie coochie show (honest!) in a wagon, stop in a town, drop the tailgate, do the show, then bring out the bottles of booze— er, cough medicine or energy syrup – sell a bunch and move on to the next town.

Another example of this is the ad just out for Nationwide Insurance. It stars the actor Mindy Kaling in a fantasy setting because she’s invisible. She walks through several scenes not being seen ending on a basketball court where it seems she suddenly become visible as she interferes with a kid playing hoops. He complains about her interrupting him and she says something to the effect that “there are worse things than being touched by a beautiful woman.” Then the Nationwide tag line about Nationwide is the company “that sees you as a priority.” Or, “Sees you for the person you are.” Wow. I’m knocked over. Where do I sign? Something inside me suggests that this ad was conceived and written by Ms. Kaling.

Ooops! There’s Mindy again in an American Express ad. She’s a producer and writer as well as an actor, so the odds just went up that she’s taking a crack at the ad business. Seems to me folks ought to learn something about marketing before they go off producing ads.

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OK, you’re shallow

“Call me shallow,” says the guy in the National Car Rental ad as he turns selecting a car to drive into a sexual context. Suddenly the maroon whatever that he selects is “she.” The other black car that he rejects remains silent (for a car, that is) and he comments, “Oh, the silent treatment. Real mature.” The arrogance fairly oozes from his pores. Who writes this junk, a bunch of ten-year-olds? One look at the poor schlepps who drag themselves from cramped plane seats to car rentals to the local Days Inn – the backbone of National’s business – would know in an instant they’ve little patience for this kind of baloney.

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My 2c:

How do they do it?

Aside from differences with policies, I’m always astonished at how easily some conservatives can directly contradict fact and keep a straight face. Like climate change denier Sen. James Inhofe who insists that global warming is a hoax as the polar ice collapses around him – and the fossil fuels industry pours money into his campaign funds. Was it Will Rodgers who said we had the best Congress money could buy?

Speaker Boehner and Ted Cruz are the most recent examples as they excoriate the ACA (Obamacare), consistently referring to it as a “job killing plan,” and a disaster of one sort or another while one non-partisan research study after another demonstrates just the opposite.

Congresswoman Cathy Morris Rodgers – that tallish woman who often stands behind Boehner as he announces the next obstruction – was so convinced of the truth of these distortions she asked people to tell their tales of ACA horror on her Facebook page. What she got instead was hundreds of stories of how the ACA has helped this individual or that family with many exhortations to (1) leave it the hell alone, (2) improve it, (3) shut up. I’m sure by now she has crafted some way of explaining where all that opposition came from and why – with a straight face.

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Come on, Rob, get real

From Watch Your Ads – A media memo by George Duncan

Come on, Rob, get real

Much as I enjoyed Rob Lowe in West Wing, I‘m disappointed now to see him make a fool of himself in the ads he’s currently doing for Direct TV. In fact, Direct TV’s ads haven’t been exactly ground breaking, and are even confusing. But here’s the hapless Rob, speaking for Direct TV first as himself, then as an alternate version of himself in a variety of roles; meathead Rob Lowe, “peaked in High School” Rob Lowe, crazy hairy Rob Lowe, each of whom admits that he watches cable.  Some of them involve putting Rob’s head on another body. Getting mixed reviews in Twitterdom, as well. Looks to me, sadly, as a guy on the backside of a career. He does have a movie of some sort coming up.

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So it’s hump day – so what?

I do get a kick out of GEICO’s Hump Day spot both the original with the camel stomping through the office cubes proclaiming “Hump Day” presumably on a Wednesday, and the pickup with the camels at the zoo and people yelling “hump day” at them. I still have trouble, however, making the connection to GEICO insurance under the tag, “It’s what you do.” “Is what what I do? Yell hump day at a camel? OK, let’s say that what camels do is walk around on Wednesdays yelling “hump day”.  How does that suggest that what I do is call GEICO to save 15% on my car insurance? Ads have about 3 seconds to make their key point. Any distraction from that, no matter how clever, and you’ve blown the deal. The viewer isn’t going to stop to figure out your brilliant metaphor. Creative guys never get that. Actually, in my experience, they may get it, but they don’t want it. You know, like climate deniers.

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Cutsie poo Subaru

Subaru has a string of ads out now. One shows a still youngish couple going for a picnic and swim and as they progress they morph into younger versions of themselves, returning to the adolescent waterhole they enjoyed back in the day. Cute. Another shows a dad tearing around a field in response to his kid’s model airplane controller when the original broke. The best, though, is the young couple necking in the car until “daddy” comes to the door and breaks things up. Pretty ordinary, except that the characters are all dogs.

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1+1 still = 2

Several leading credit cards have been offering 2% cash discounts with certain purchase amounts. Leave it to Citi Bank to put a typical Wall Street spin on their deal: it’s the Citi Double Cash Card. Sounds great, right? Double the cash discount of other cards? No. It’s 1% when you buy something and another 1% when you pay for it. I was never great at math, but I looked it up, and I found that 1% plus 1% equals 2%!  Yet they keep yelling “double”, “double”, “double” all through the ad.

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Wait, what?

What has to be the shortest ad on TV today is this seven-word exhortation from Fresh Books: “Remove all doubt. Just use Fresh Books” Well that saves 20 seconds, doesn’t it? Who and what is Fresh Books? Other than a blatant rip off of QuickBooks, who cares? Just remove all doubt.

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Who really won the Super Bowl?

The score, now a month ago, speaks for itself – if you discount the Seahawk’s last gasp decision to pass with 2nd down and one yard to certain victory – but the real winners, adwise, seem to be Facebook and Twitter with gazillions of  comments and tweets setting new records for social media. As one ad pro said, even at $4 ½ million per spot that’s exposure they couldn’t buy. There was also a ton of comments on the ads, of course, most of which you’ve probably seen and which is too complex for this space.

I did wonder why I saw no mentions of the Chevy Truck ad that darkened the screen for a moment shortly after kickoff. I bet it produced a momentary stab of fear in a lot of Nacho-and-beer filled chests. Good idea for Chevy? I’m not sure.  Also another Chevy Truck ad has a guy coming out of an elevator in an office building, walking to the curb where his Chevy truck is parked, getting in and driving away. Parking space directly in front of an office building? In your dreams.

Nationwide, as you’ve probably heard, screwed the pooch royally with an ad detailing the what-might-have-been dreams of a kid who, in fact, died in childhood as the result of a domestic accident.

For what it’s worth, the Katy Perry whatever-that-was was incomprehensible to me.

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Here comes Grub Hub – duck!

If you order a hoagie (hero) from Grub Hub, don’t stand near the window. Their current ad shows a Grub Hub sandwich hitting folks and cold cocking them with the power of a mortar round. I realize they deliver but that’s ridiculous! An effective ad should be positive, not negative. Viewers tend to turn off, at least mentally, ads that depict negative situations.

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NYT Guide to Real Estate

The New York Times debuted their exciting new Sunday Magazine last month – with 3 covers, no less. I’m sure there were several interesting articles, but I couldn’t find them. I did latch on to a few $20 million condos overlooking the city but I decided to wait. You know these guys, in a few weeks they’ll be down to $29,000,995. I’m sure the .005% felt right at home.

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Not your Daddy’s Caddy

Probably the best campaign on the screen today is the new series from, ta-da- Cadillac. Titled “Dare Greatly,” it presents creative images of some who dared to take risks that led to greatness like Apple’s Steve Wozniak, designer Jason Wu and director of “Boyhood”, Richard Linklater. The tag line is “only those who dare drive the world forward.” Clearly an effort to revitalize the Caddy brand, which could use it.

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People I could do without

  • The lady with the transvaginal meshes, slings, arrows, etc.
  • Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel with their lame internet/Beamer i3 ad. BMW should be fined every time that ad runs –as it does every ten seconds. For one thing, the constant repetition of the question, “can you explain the internet?” even if it is a dramatized ad, makes them both look stupid after a while. Then, of course, there’s the ever faithful Alison, clinging to the phone for 21 years just to answer Katie’s queries!  That’s dedication!
  • The guy in the Discover ad who screams like a banshee when he discovers a goat in his house.

Overall, I think what’s happened in ad shops today is the creative have taken over from the marketing guys.

Speaking of “shops,” I’m noticing the phrase in use currently, “not in my wheelhouse,” or “that’s right in your wheelhouse.” Like we’re all captains steering our lives gallantly through foaming seas accepting or rejecting challenges on some who, me? basis. Reminds me of Jean Shepherd, a great radio monologist back in the day, who loved to tweak the ad guys (who paid for his show, BTW,) for their use of the word “shop” when referring to their offices. Shepherd would point out how the term conjured up visions of hard working blacksmiths or carpenters or some such, sweating it out day after day with nary a vodka martini to keep body and soul together.

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My 2c:

Say it ain’t so, Mitt!

As Mitt Romney decided he couldn’t fool all of the people even once let alone a third time, and withdrew his candidacy, his suggestion for an ideal replacement presidential candidate leaves plenty of room for head scratching – and maybe tells us how he really views the American presidency. Let’s see. Someone not well known, he said. So someone who has not held any notable office.  No experience working in the political environment…managing policy… negotiation…persuasion…research. What else? No national campaign experience. Good luck in today’s conservative knockdown, drag out primaries. A startup, Romney said. A blank slate. For the Presidency of the United States of America, the most powerful office in the world. Maybe, with his decision not to run, we’ve all ducked a bullet.

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Why not “barbarians?”

As the Republicans continue to berate President Obama because he won’t condemn all Islamists in his references to terrorism, I recall 1st year Latin and constant reference in Caesar’s Gallic Wars to the “barbarians” who were the terrorists of the day. Seems to me there’s not a lot of difference between ISIL and the Belgians, Celts, Gauls and Helvetians whom Caesar described: “The Belgae were the bravest because they lived furthest from the Province and merchants did not often come to them and import those things that effeminate the mind”. Interesting use of the word “effeminate.” Perhaps, if the world community would consistently refer to ISIS/ISIL as the barbarians, it would help to make them less attractive to young, disaffected Islamists and provide a clearer distinction between the terrorists and the Islamist community.

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Same ole, same ole

Republican reaction to the Obama budget amounts to their permanent solution to everything: cut taxes and spending.  Never mind how that plays out in terms of income inequality, education, stagnant lives for the middle class and tougher times for working families. It reminds me of the days when the medical “experts” firmly believed in bleeding their patients with lancets in order to release the bad blood. Many held that belief even into the early 20th century despite the obvious observation that the practice never benefitted the patient.

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P.S.: TD Ameritrade wakes up

Someone at TD Ameritrade must have read last month’s Watch Your Ads – or maybe not. In any case, they discovered their confusing copy in an ad, noted here, that they had two names for the woman featured in the ad calling her Sheila in the opening and Janet at the end. In the more recent iteration, Sheila has become “hey girl.” Still don’t care for the flippant, “whatever” at the end, but they don’t pay me.

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